How has the title race changed in the FAWSL?

Can Manchester City beat Chelsea?

The big disappointment for Manchester City in the first half of the season was their performances against Arsenal and Chelsea. After beating everyone else without conceding they offered little in the two top of the table clashes. However, both of these games were away from home. Arsenal and Chelsea would have to travel to Manchester in 2020.

As talked about above, City have overcome the first hurdle and beaten Arsenal at home, but they’ll still need to make sure they don’t lose to Chelsea if they want to hang on to top spot – though even a draw won’t be enough if Chelsea win their game in hand.

Their win against Arsenal was thanks to some good finishes and keeping the Gunners quiet until the last half-hour or so. They can take some comfort in their defensive display for that first hour, but it’s another game against the top clubs where they didn’t create much going forward.

Something which feels quite hard to believe is that Ellen White hasn’t had a shot in two matches against Arsenal this season. Luckily they also have Pauline Bremer, meaning it isn’t a disaster if White has a quiet game. While the opposite is also true.

Bremer has the 2nd highest xG per 90 this season, behind only Bethany England, while White has the 4th highest with Vivianne Miedema in 3rd. I’ve seen Sam Kerr vs Vivianne Miedema being pushed quite a lot recently and while they might be the two biggest names, the idea of a front two rivalry between Kerr – England and White – Bremer feels as though it could be just as fun.

Both Bremer and White have good xG figures but they’re also both active off the ball. For strikers, White has the 2nd most pressures per 90 in the division and Bremer the 3rd most.

Looking further, a few City players seem to pop up somewhere for good numbers off the ball. Jill Scott makes the 6th most pressures per 90 while Lauren Hemp and Caroline Weir are 1st and 2nd respectively for winning the ball back from counterpressing actions (actions that come within 5 seconds of an open play turnover).

Click to enlarge (Recoveries includes tackles, interceptions, ball recoveries and 50/50s)

This makes it no surprise that City are 2nd for xG from shots that come within 15 seconds of having possession. Chelsea create 0.51 xG per game via these chances and City 0.50 per game. City haven’t been quite as strong defensively (0.08 xG vs 0.15 xG) but still have the 3rd best numbers in the division.

All of this makes it hard to predict what’s going to happen at the end of the month. City have home advantage but need to create more against the top sides. Chelsea likely won’t be too interested in possession but will press high and look to pen City back and hit them in transition. If there’s any kind of sloppiness in City’s play from the back, you can almost guarantee Chelsea will take advantage of it.

There should be plenty of good match-ups across the field though. Janine Beckie will be back from Olympic qualifying and will attack from right-back, which will probably mean Guro Reiten will have plenty of defensive work to do, but could also leave the Norweigan with space to exploit. Caroline Weir and Jill Scott, who will likely tuck in a bit from the right, are both active off the ball and will need to be if they don’t want to let Sophie Ingle and Ji So-yun control the game. On the reverse side, Chelsea won’t want to give Walsh space to dictate the game and utilise her passing range.

Chelsea have another tough trip to Manchester this weekend as they play United, which could provide another twist in the title race (though Chelsea have beaten United in both the league and cup already this season), but with City vs Chelsea being the last game between the top three, it’s going to have a huge say on who lifts the trophy come May.

Ellie Roebuck and post-shot xG

Despite Manchester City not conceding a goal against a team outside the top two until the 5th of January, their defensive numbers haven’t been that great. They’re good, they’re still the 4th best in the league, but with how dominant the top three are even being 4th doesn’t feel too great. Rivals Manchester United are the team to intrude on the top three, having the 2nd best xG against in the division.

Despite having just the 4th best xG record, City have the best actual goals record in the division, even with Chelsea playing one game fewer. With fbref now adding post-shot xG, which takes into account the shot placement, we can see that a big reason for City’s overperformance has been due to the form of 20-year-old Ellie Roebuck.

Roebuck overperformed slightly last season in her 15 matches played, beating the post-shot xG by 0.1 per 90, but this season she’s overperforming by a huge 0.57 per 90. City ‘should’ have conceded 13 goals this season based on post-shot xG but have actually conceded just 6, meaning Roebuck has essentially saved 7 goals for her side.

While I don’t know how sustainable these numbers may be, it’s hugely impressive at the moment. With both the SheBelieves Cup and Olympics coming up this year, it’s hard to think of someone other than Roebuck taking the #1 shirt given the form she’s in.